Post 721 –by Gautam Shah
Natural elements in various forms have been revered in all cultures and ages. The reverence for natural elements was due to both, fear and appreciation. Natural entities have been venerated in their original whole, parts or representative adaptations. Natural elements, like the flora and fauna were worshiped in original forms, and also by equating to human body elements like arms, hands, legs, fingers, head, face, blood, semen, etc. Similarly terrestrial features like rivers, water-bodies, stones, hills, mountains, valleys, sun, moon, planets, stars, air, winds, light, rains, clouds, etc. have awed humans by their scale and power. The life processes like birth, death, fertility or procreation, growth, rejuvenation, pain, joy, love and compassion, feelings, remembrances, etc. are happenings that roused curiosity.
In India and elsewhere, unchanging patterns of far off stars were sensed as the consistency in nature, but over that imposition of certain other patterns, like the movements of moon and other planets, showed the anomalies of seasons causing floods, dry spells, earthquakes, storms and hurricanes. Man has worshiped everything real on earth, in the skies, and their symbolic representations. These astral forms over the period became extremely abstract, with no trace of the original.
There were many abstract and un-explainable happenings that were challenges, like the omens, good or bad luck, irrational punishments. These experiences were formless, but associated with contextual things and that became objects for veneration. One universal belief was living beings having a soul that transcended the various body forms. The transition of a soul from one body form to another, or to a body-less ghost was accepted as the realm of existence. Souls needed places to go to, like, the underworld, heaven, hell or ethereal, and also as many animal-human body manifestations.
The mundane body forms did not adequately express the extraordinary powers that some of the souls were endowed with. So, it perhaps began with the human body gaining the heads of other beings. These body forms were of many realms and created a bizarre mix of reality, unreality and even virtual reality. Why was the first body transmutation of the head? Was there realization that the head controls the body? The Egyptian Isis, Hindu Ganesha -Son of God Shiva, many reincarnations of Vishnu, were all with modified heads. The mutant heads expressed the anger, cruelly and grotesque expressions. Reverse mutation with body of an animal and head of human were exploited to endow strength, running speed, flying or jumping powers. Wining a fight against a monster was another such expression in Sumerians, Chinese or Indian mythologies.
Attributing qualities of a living or dead person, to plants, inanimate objects or natural phenomena, is a form of Animism. It is perhaps, the most ancient form of worship. In many societies totems or emblems part of animism. In India Kalpa-Vriksha, also known as kalpataru, kalpadruma or kalpapādapa, is a wish-fulfilling divine tree. Animism perceives all natural things as ‘animated and alive’. All objects, places and creatures, and even words, sounds, smells and other sensorial expressions have spiritual significance.
In ancient periods of Europe, trees or especially groves of yew and oak were objects or places of worship. A sacred grove, a natural holy place, is known as alka (Lithuanian) and elks (Latvian). In Kerala, India sacred groves are known as ‘Kavu’, and Devrai (gods’ forest) in hilly range -Ghats of Western India. Such clusters have associated water bodies such as rivulet or pond and a presiding animistic deity (often a serpent or cobra -Naag Dev).
Trees have been worshiped both as Male and Female forms, and through the parts like the trunk, branches, twigs and sap representing the human arms, fingers, blood etc. Trees have been symbols of rebirth, cycle of growth in spring, fertility or procreation. The trees were associated with death and rebirth, because of their capacity to regrow from almost dried and dead condition.
‘While Muslims (Arabs and Bedouins) consider sacred trees especially as an abode of righteous figures’ (Wellis’) souls or as having a connection to their graves, the Druze relates sacred trees especially to the events or deeds in the lives of prophets and religious leaders’
‘According to the Druze religion only people like prophets could be ‘sacred; physical objects like, trees may be regarded only as ‘blessed’. A plant species all of whose specimens, are worshiped owing to religious tradition (regardless the exact background) has to be treated as ‘holy’. –Amots Dafni’
The term Druid, possibly derives from the Celtic word for oak. Druids were the ceremony masters, who organized worship, sacrifices, divination, and judicial procedures at Oak groves. Many religions, like Christianity and Islam were very suspicious of the tree worship, but had to concur with the public belief that groves were sacred places of the ghosts. First public gatherings and later the churches, though first occurred in such groves. Earlier saints were buried under already accepted sacred trees. Later the saint’s graves under a tree became a beatified place. With larger buildings, Kings and high priests were buried inside the churches. The Trees and the graves seem to have usurped each others position.
Druids were banned by the Roman government from 1st C AD., as they opposed the coming of Christianity. It was then said that ‘Jesus’ was ‘better than a prophet, more knowledgeable than every Druid, a king who was a bishop and a complete sage’. With Christianity, the focus on trees changed from ‘rebirth’ to ‘resurrection‘. Christianity.
Osiris was the green skinned deity of vegetation, agriculture, fertility, afterlife, death and resurrection. Osiris was in charge of the underworld of the dead. The Hebrew word for ‘die’ is used only in relation to the death of a person or animals, but not for plants. Former two have the breath of life. In Arab folklore, sacred trees are haunted by Jinn. In many folk-lores, trees were homes of spirits and where the deceased find blissful repose. Trees are places where sick and dying are placed for blessings. Objects like wreaths, ribbons, threads or rags are hung on trees for sick humans, livestock, or for good luck.
The World Tree, Cosmic Tree or Tree of Life is a conceptual form that exists in many cultures of the world. It occurs as description and also as a mystical image. One of the oldest records of the World Tree is of Babylonia (about 3-4 Millennium BC). Such trees have an image with foliage (heaven), trunk (earth) and roots (underworld) and a spatial presence (position and metaphysical imagery). The position was the axis Mundi (axis of Earth’s rotation between the celestial poles) and the imagery that connected the heaven, earth, and underworld (or past, present and future).
In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, ‘Kalpa-Vriksha or Kalpataru’ is a wish-fulfilling divine tree, and also associated as the tree of knowledge. The Vedic Aranyani, the protector goddess of the forest is a daughter of Shiv and Parvati, who was raised by Kalpa-Vriksha. VanaDevi is worshiped in rural India by Hindus as VanaChandi, and BonBibi (Bon=jungle) by Muslims in Sunderbans (West Bengal) India. In Hinduism, the Goddess Vrinda (holy basil plant =Tulsi in India) was blessed by God Krishna. Shakambari, the mother of all vegetation, is a form of Goddess Durga. She represents nine plants of medicinal benefits. Buddha and Mahavira (Jain) attained wisdom and salvation under trees (respectively the pipal and sal).
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